South Africa’s oldest crop festival takes place in Ficksburg every November, when the cherry is king. But there’s more to this town than delicious red fruit. Here are 6 must-see hotspots.
Words and Pictures: Marion Whitehead
Surprise at finding an Alaskan chocolatier in this corner of the Eastern Free State turned to delight when I tasted Calen Thomas’ dark, 60 per cent, choc-coated maraschino cherry on a dainty ganache-filled cupcake. Calen’s tiny home-based operation is no Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, but it easily churns out 40 000 handmade choccies a month, many for export. Calen arrived in the Eastern Free State to shoot a documentary on Lesotho, and stayed after falling in love with the place. He turned his confectionery hobby into a small business, perfected his art with training from Lindt and the Belgians, and has been filling orders ever since. Factory tours and tastings are by appointment.
082 798 5052, www.mckinleychocolates.co.za
2. Imperani Coffee Shop and Restaurant
This, the only sit-down, à la carte restaurant in town (unless you count the local Wimpy), is open at night and literally buzzes during the Cherry Festival. The menu ranges from savoury pancakes and nachos to farmer-size steaks and slow-cooked oxtail. But if you have a sweet tooth, the cakes steal the show. Owners, mother and daughter team Thea Bezuidenhout and Wanda Swart, also keep the flag flying for Ficksburg’s architectural heritage. Thea’s late husband Wynand grew up in the Eastern Free State and had a passion for building in solid sandstone and thatch. He built their guest house, restaurant and coffee shop, stone by stone. “Every year he built more,”says Thea. “It was a labour of love.”
051 933 3606, www.imperaniguesthouse.co.za
3. SH Pellissier Gallery
In 1922, a promising young artist named JH Pierneef received his first big commission to paint eight murals and a frieze in the newly built Ficksburg Junior School hall. “The headmaster, Samuel Henri Pellissier, was a rock art enthusiast,” explains Renette Humphreys, a retired teacher, who acts as a guide for visitors to the remarkable SH Pellissier Art Gallery, a treasure house of South African art, including Pierneef’s early San murals. These signed panels average 1.2mx 2.9m. “The imagery was derived from George W Stowe’s early documentation of rock art sites in Rouxville, Smithfield, Zastron and Barkly East,” says Renette. Also in the gallery are works by Tinus de Jongh, Gregoire Boonzaier, Maud Sumner and Maggie Laubser, among lesser-known artworks by South African artists. View
084 664 3491
4. Die Blikplek
If you haven’t yet caught on to the creative side of recycling and upcycling, a visit to this emporium of cast-offs given new life will be a real eye-opener. Rusty enamel basins become garden hats and whimsical angels dangle below broekie lace cut from bits of once-fine pressed-steel ceilings. Sandra Netherlands (pictured with her assistant Robert Litabo) got the idea when she was renovating her Green Acorn Guesthouse in 2005 and was too cash-strapped to afford conventional materials. She came across stacks of rusty pressed-steel ceilings, took a welding course and started making her shabby chic home and garden decor. Now her yard overflows with an abundance of quirky structures and unusual treasures.
051 933 2746 or 082 828 8381, www.greenacorn.co.za
5. Handmade with Love
On her father’s farm outside Ficksburg, the energetic and optimistic Luzelle Bonthuyzen taught craft making, and in 1998 opened a small shop in the main street. Originally called Lemon Cottage, it was renamed Handmade with Love three years ago. Barbed-wire hearts, wooden crosses decorated with pearl buttons, soft cushions and a host of home decor items and gifts are all made on the premises by her small group of helpers. Uplifting quotes dotted around the shop add to the sense of peace inside the emporium, where Luzelle’s new baby daughter, Liza, often keeps mom company. There is also her coffee shop that you have to stop at, with delicious cherry milkshake and juice, cherry cheesecake, cherry liqueur pancakes and, just for good measure, fresh cherries and cream.
076 977 9477
6. Constantia Cherry Farm Stall
If you farm with cherries, their juice almost runs in your blood. Gerrit Higgo’s pa planted 300 cherry trees in 1953, and Gerrit has since expanded Constantia into the the biggest cherry producer in the district, supplying local markets and exporting worldwide. Armed with a degree in domestic science, his wife Gwynet has a glorious farm stall on the R26 between Clocolan and Ficksburg, where manager Joekie van Dyk (pictured) welcomes you with a free taste of cherry juice, jam, chutney and liqueur. The refreshing cherry lemonade tingled my taste buds and I was quick to pop some ice cream topping into my shopping basket. The restaurant serves everything cherry, from cheesecake and cherry pie to cherry smoothies and hot chocolate with a kick of cherry liqueur.
073 259 7195, www.constantiafarmstall.co.za